OVERNIGHT REVIEW: Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, American Youth Symphony at Walt Disney Concert Hall

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

______________________

 

Los Angeles
Children’s Chorus; American Youth Symphony

James Conlon, Anne
Tomlinson, Alexander Treger, conductors

Music by Vaughan Williams, Britten, Beam, Wilcocks and
Bjarnason

March 4 at 7:30 p.m. Walt Disney Concert Hall.

 

NOTE: With this
review, I come violate one of my cardinal rules, which is to not review people
for whom I’ve sung or with whom I am well acquainted. Anne Tomlinson fits in
the latter category and the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus is housed at my
church [Pasadena Presbyterian]. Thus, you can — as the late, great Molly Ivins
was often wont to say, take this review with “a grain of salt or a pound of
salt,” if you are so inclined.

______________________

 

We’ve just come off of six weeks that, among other things,
focused attention on Venezuela’s “El Sistema” music education system and the
Los Angeles Philharmonic’s attempt to reproduce — in some fashion — the success
of that endeavor locally.

 

Lost amid the Mahler, hoopla and acronyms such as YOLA and
HOLA is the fact that this region can boast of several ensembles that
demonstrate what happens when the musical cream rises to the top. Two of those
groups, the American Youth Symphony and Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, combined
for a concert last night at Walt Disney Concert Hall that concluded with the
world premiere of an intriguing cantata, The
isle is full of noises
by Icelandic composer Daniel Bjarnason.

 

The Los Angeles Children’s Chorus (which, despite its name
is based in Pasadena) was founded in 1986 and has become one of the nation’s
leading children’s choral programs. There are now more than 375 children, ages
6-18, participating in seven choirs and an extensive music education program.
Its artistic director, Anne Tomlinson, has been at the helm for 16 years and
LACC regularly performs with the L.A. Phil, Los Angeles Opera and other
professional groups, while also presenting its own programs. The group’s
Concert Choir recently sang for both Mahler Symphony No. 3 and No. 8.

 

Founded in 1964 by Mehli Mehta (father of former LAPO Music
Director Zubin Mehta), the American Youth Symphony has trained more than 200
musicians who now play in professional orchestras. Together the New York
Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony and Cleveland Orchestra have eight AYS alumni in
principal posts, while the L.A. Phil, L.A. Chamber Orchestra and L.A. Opera
Orchestra use 32 members who worked with the AYS.

 

For their appearance on the Phil’s “Sounds About Town”
series this year, the two organizations combined to commission Bjarnason’s
14-minute, three-movement piece based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest. In the preconcert lecture, Tomlinson identified a
significant problem of writing a big piece for a children’s chorus: the range
of the young singers is only slightly more than two octaves, far less than if a
composer were writing for adults.

 

Bjarnason, who at age 31 isn’t all that much older than some
of the AYS instrumentalists (that group’s upper age limit is 27), was equal to
the task. He chose the texts purposefully; his grandfather translated
Shakespeare’s sonnets into Icelandic, a project that was published just before
his grandfather’s death.

 

Deciding that some of Shakespeare’s sonnets weren’t
appropriate textually for children, Bjarnason instead turned to The Tempest and selected Miranda’s O I Have Suffered, Caliban’s Be Not Afear’d and Prospero’s The Cloud-Capp’d Towers as the texts for
the three movements. He reserved the loudest, richest orchestral moments for
when the children weren’t singing, creating massed clusters of sound with piano
and percussion punctuation. However, during the choral portions Bjarnason
skillfully cut back the orchestra so as not to overpower the 86 members of the
LACC Concert Choir, whom he challenged with close harmonies and tricky sliding
chromatic scales; the composition ranged from unison singing to as many as 12
parts. The result was often intriguing and occasionally riveting.

 

Conlon, who spends much of his life balancing orchestras
with singers, was the perfect choice to lead this premiere performance. He did
an expert job of balancing and supplied a supple hand to the score’s tone
painting. The orchestra — with Principal Flute Alexandra Walin standing out in
her solo turns — played with assurance and skill and the choristers sang with
compelling gracefulness and cohesion. Considering that the singers had
relatively little time to prepare owing to their work in the Phil’s “Mahler
Project,” their performance was particularly noteworthy.

 

Prior to the Bjarnason work, Alexander Treger, who has been
the orchestra’s music director since 1998, led his AYS in a polished
performance of a suite from Prokofiev’s ballet, Romeo and Juliet. Last week, Charles Dutoit led the L.A. Phil in a
riveting performance of eight sections of the ballet and if Treger’s concept
(using just six sections) felt a little more episodic than Dutoit’s, this
performance had its exhilarating moments, as well.

 

In the first half of the program, three of the LACC choirs
began the Shakespearean theme by performing a series of short selections from
American and British composers. The 16 high-school girls of the Chamber Singers
made a block dividing the larger Intermediate and Apprentice Choirs.

 

The most impressive performance was the initial selection:
Douglas Beam’s Spirits, which
Tomlinson conducted and the combined choirs sang with impressive diction and
precision.

 

Individually, the Intermediate Choir (led by Mandy Brigham)
and the Apprentice Choir (led by Larissa Donnelly) sang Britten’s Fancie, Robert Johnson’s Where the Bee Sucks and Vaughan
Williams’ Orpheus with His Lute with
supple grace, although the diction was more muddied (part of which can be laid
at the hands of the composers). The Chamber Singers concluded the set with a
sweet performance of Vaughan Williams’ Sigh
No More, Ladies.
Among other things, the collection of choirs and songs
provided the audience with valuable lessons in how voices change as children
grow older and gain more experience in choral singing. Twyla Meyer accompanied
skillfully on the piano.

 

To conclude the first half, Tomlinson returned to the podium
to the lead the orchestra and Concert Choir (LACC’s flagship ensemble) in a
performance of David Wilcocks’ The
Glories of Shakespeare.
Actor Stuart W. Howard opened the piece by reciting
lines from uncredited, albeit familiar Shakespeare lines, and he and Lina Patel
added additional recitatives between each of the five selections in this
pastiche.

 

Unlike Bjarnason, whose orchestral writing covered a wide
range, Wilcocks’ orchestral accompaniments stayed mainly with the two-octave
treble-voice range, which made the work less interesting. Whether it was the
singers not projecting quite enough volume or the orchestra playing with two
much, Tomlinson had troubles with balances in the first piece but provided a
more integrated whole during the final four movements. Principal Flute Walin
again provided sparkling solo work.

_______________________

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

Apparently bowing to complaints raised from opening night
onward about Disney Hall’s inability to adequately project spoken words, a
large horn cluster was suspended above the stage, which made diction from
Howard and Patel much clearer. It also looked ugly and overpowering but one can
hope that someone will figure out a way to cover the horns in a way that blends
more aesthetically with Frank Gehry’s wood walls and ceiling.

One thing the horn array did was eliminate the use
overhead projection of texts, which were, instead, in a printed-program insert.
Fortunately, house management left the lights up sufficiently for people to
follow the texts when that was necessary.

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

AROUND TOWN/MUSIC: Los Angeles Children’s Chorus and American Youth Symphony appear tonight at Walt Disney Concert Hall

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

This article was first published today in the above papers.

 

Los Angeles Children’s
Chorus; American Youth Symphony

James Conlon, Anne
Tomlinson, Alexander Treger, conductors

Music by Vaughan Williams, Britten, Beam and Wilcocks

The Isle is full of
noises
by Daniel Bjarnason (world premiere)

Today at 7:30 p.m. Walt Disney Concert Hall. Preconcert
lecture at 6:30 p.m.

Information:
www.laphil.com

 _______________________

There are several reasons to consider attending this
evening’s program by the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus and American Youth
Symphony at 7:30 p.m. in Walt Disney Concert Hall, part of the Los Angeles
Philharmonic’s “Sounds About Town” series.

 

First (and most important) it’s a concert that combines two
of the Southland’s major youth-oriented organizations. Now in its second
quarter century, the Pasadena-based Los Angeles Children’s Chorus is one of the
world’s premiere children’s choirs whose singers regularly perform with such
groups as the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Los Angeles Opera.  From the time it was founded, in 1964
by conductor Mehli Mehta (father of Zubin), the American Youth Symphony has
trained thousands of orchestral musicians, many of whom now play in major
orchestras throughout the U.S.

 

Second, the Shakespeare-themed program will see the
conductors of both ensembles on the podium (albeit at different times), along
with Los Angeles Opera Music Director James Conlon, who will lead both
ensembles in the world premiere of Icelandic composer Daniel Bjarnason’s The isle is full of noises, a
three-movement work based on Shakespeare’s The
Tempest.

 

The concert will conclude a very busy weekend for Conlon.
Last night he led a performance of Britten’s Albert Herring and this afternoon he conducts Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra, both for L.A. Opera at
the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. It will also be a busy day at Disney Hall, as
the L.A. Phil and guest conductor Pablo Hereas-Casado conclude their weekend
series with a program that includes the west coast premiere of James Matheson’s
Violin Concerto, along with Richard Strauss’ tone poem, Ein Heldenleben.

 

Anne Tomlinson, LACC artistic director, will lead the
opening half of the Sunday evening program, conducting the choir in Sigh no more ladies and Orpheus with his lute by Ralph Vaughan
Williams; Benjamin Britten’s Fancie;
and Douglas Beam’s Spirits. Tomlinson
will conclude the first half by conducting both ensembles in David Wilcocks’ The Glories of Shakespeare.

 

After intermission and before the Bjornason work, Alexander
Treger, AYS music director, will lead his ensemble in a suite from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet.

 

A third reason to attend is that the “Sounds About Town”
series provides people with an inexpensive way to see a concert in the Disney
Hall auditorium. Tickets for this concert range from $20.75 to $45, far less
than you would pay for an L.A. Phil concert, so if you’ve never been inside
Disney Hall, this is a great opportunity. Since the two ensembles will
undoubtedly have lots of relatives in attendance, check with the box office
before you make the trip downtown. Information:
323/850-2000; www.laphil.com

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

(Updated) Five-Spot: What caught my eye on March 1, 2012

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

______________________

 

UPDATE:  I forgot The Colburn Orchestra concert on Saturday! Of course, I won’t be able to see it because I will be singing in the Pasadena Singers’ concert (see bottom of this post), but the Colburn kids deserve to be included.

Can it really be March 1 already??? Each Thursday, I list five events that pique my interest,
including (ideally) at least one with free admission (or, at a minimum, inexpensive
tickets). Here’s today’s grouping:

______________________

 

Tomorrow at 8 p.m.,
Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Pablo Heras-Casado, conductor

The 34-year-old Spanish conductor, who last December was
named Principal Conductor of the Orchestra of St Luke’s in New York City,
returns to conduct the Phil in a program that includes the west coast premiere
of James Matheson’s Violin Concerto (with LAPO Principal Concertmaster, Martin
Chalifour as soloist) and Richard Strauss’ tone poem Ein Heldenleben. Tomorrow night is a “Casual Friday” program; the
Saturday and Sunday concerts add Beethoven’s Egmont Overture. Information:
www.laphil.com

Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Ambassador Auditorium
The Colburn Orchestra; Bramwell Tovey, conductor

Tovey — music director of the Vancouver Symphony and for the past three summers principal guest conductor of the L.A. Phil at Hollywood Bowl– leads a program of Richard Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben (yes, we seem to be awash in Strauss’ autobiographical tone poem — see L.A. Phil above)) and Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2, with Sichen Ma as soloist. Information: www.colburnschool.edu

Sunday at 4 p.m. at
Neighborhood Church, Pasadena

Pacific Serenades

Known for presenting world premieres, Pacific Serenades unveils
a new work by the group’s artistic director, Mark Carlson, which is entitled Cave Paintings, for alto saxophone,
violin, viola, cello, and piano. Carlson
describes Cave Paintings as a
tribute to music from American popular culture of the 1930s and 1940s. “I grew
up hearing that music,” he explains, “partly because my mother loved it [...] and
partly because it was always such an integral part of our culture, and still
is.” He cites noir film scores and the Great
American Songbook
— music principally from Broadway and Hollywood musicals
and from jazz by the likes of George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Billy Strayhorn,
Harold Arlen, and Cole Porter–as inspirations.

 

The concert
also plays Saturday night at a private home in Altadena and Tuesday night at
UCLA (where Carlson teaches). Information:
www.pacser.org

 

Sunday at 7:30 p.m.
at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Los Angeles
Children’s Chorus and American Youth Symphony; James Conlon, Anne Tomlinson and
Alexander Treger, conductors

There are several reasons to consider attending this
concert. First (and most important) it’s a concert that combines two of the
Southland’s major youth-oriented organizations. Now in its second quarter
century, the Pasadena-based Los Angeles Children’s Chorus is one of the world’s
premiere children’s choirs whose singers regularly perform with such groups as
the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Los Angeles Opera.  From the time it was founded, in 1964 by conductor Mehli
Mehta (father of Zubin), the American Youth Symphony has trained thousands of
orchestral musicians, many of whom now play in major orchestras throughout the
U.S.

 

Second, the Shakespeare-themed program will see the
conductors of both ensembles on the podium (albeit at different times), along
with Los Angeles Opera Music Director James Conlon, who will lead both
ensembles in the world premiere of Icelandic composer Daniel Bjarnason’s The isle is full of noises, a
three-movement work based on Shakespeare’s The
Tempest.

 

Anne Tomlinson, LACC artistic director, will lead the
opening half, conducting music by Vaughan Williams, Britten, Douglas Beam and
David Wilcocks. After intermission and before the Bjornason work, Alexander
Treger, AYS music director, will lead his ensemble in a suite from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet.

 

Another reason to attend is that this concert is part of the
L.A. Phil’s “Sounds About Town” series, which provides people with an
inexpensive way to see a concert in the Disney Hall auditorium. Tickets for
this concert range from $20.75 to $45, far less than you would pay for an L.A.
Phil concert, so if you’ve never been inside Disney Hall, this is a great
opportunity. Since the two ensembles will undoubtedly have lots of relatives in
attendance, check with the box office before you make the trip downtown. Information: www.laphil.com

 

Wednesday at 8 p.m.
at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Jeffrey Kahane and
friends

Kahane, who is celebrating his 15th anniversary
as music director of Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, appears with LACO’s
Concertmaster Margaret Batjer and Principal Cellist Andrew Shulman in a recital
on the Phil’s Colburn Celebrity Series. Kahane, who continues to be a
world-class pianist, will play music by Chopin, as well. Information: www.laphil.com

 

And the weekend’s
“free admission” program …

 

Saturday at 7:30 at
Pasadena Presbyterian Church

The Pasadena Singers:
“Choral Favorites from Two Continents”

Since I sing with this chamber choral ensemble, you can (as
I often say, quoting the late, great Molly Ivins) take this recommendation with
a grain of salt or a pound of salt. The program features the world premiere of
three Scottish/Irish folk songs arranged by Philip Lawson, who for 20 years
sang with and was the principal arranger for The King’s Singers. Also on the
agenda is music by Brahms (a healthy selection of the Liebeslieder Waltzes), Copland, Vaughan Williams and a rollicking
arrangement of Cindy by Mormon
Tabernacle Choir director Mack Wilberg. Information:
www.ppc.net

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

OVERNIGHT REVIEW: LA Opera’s production of Britten’s “Albert Herring” at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

______________________

 

Los Angeles Opera:
Benjamin Britten’s Albert Herring

Friday, February 25, 2012 Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

Next performances: March 3, 8 and 14 at 7:30 p.m. March 11
and 18 at 2 p.m.

Information: www.losangelesopera.com

 

58709-Herring Photo.jpg

The Village of Loxford toasts Lady Billows during the May
Festival. (L-r) Richard Bernstein, Alek Shrader, Janis Kelly, Jonathan Michie, Robert McPherson,
Ronnita Nicole Miller and Stacey Tappan. Photo by Robert Millard for LA Opera.

______________________

Opera companies can sometimes skate by with mediocre
productions of tragedy/dramas. In some cases (e.g., Tosca) a superb lead may overcome an otherwise uneven cast. At
other times, (e.g., Aida) dramatic
sets can compensate for a lot of problems. Even in a problematic Wagner
production, a great orchestra can make up for many ills.

 

Comedy in opera is much different. Everything has to work
together expertly to make for a thoroughly enjoyable experience and that goes
double for an unfamiliar work, such as Benjamin Britten’s Albert Herring. When Los Angeles Opera opened a six-performance run
of Britten’s chamber opera last night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the
result was a first-rate production that sparkled like a finely tuned Rolex.

 

The story originated in 1887 as Le Rosier de Madame Husson by Guy de Maupassant, but Britten and
his writer, Eric Crozier, transplanted it to Britten’s home county of Suffolk,
England. Everything in the libretto refers to that part of the world (the
production from Santa Fe Opera updates the story from its original 1900 setting
to 1947, when Britten composed the work; in this case, updating probably
improved the look and feel of the opera). Crozier’s libretto, in rhyming
couplets, is witty and saucy.

 

Britten’s score is a equally witty, with echoes of Handel,
Elgar, Gilbert and Sullivan and even Wagner. Like G&S, Albert Herring is a spoof on British mores and social-class
snobbery, but it’s also a coming-of-age tale for the title character.

 

In Loxford, Lady Billows — distressed by the moral decay of
the village’s young people — decides to revive the custom of crowning a May
Queen and offers a cash prize to be given to a virtuous young woman (virtuous,
in this case, equating to virgin), but in the opening act we learn that no one
qualifies. The police superintendent suggest crowning a May King instead.
Albert Herring, a meek, mama’s boy working in mum’s greengrocer shop, meets the
test of the supercilious Lady Billows and her maid cum village morals
policewoman, Florence, and is selected.

 

Meanwhile, Sid and Nancy, a flirtatious young couple, decide
to encourage Albert to live a little by spiking his lemonade with rum at the
festival where Albert is crowned. Albert imbibes (to strains of the love-potion
theme from Tristan und Isolde) and
later departs to discover the more exciting aspects of life outside of a
village. The next morning, Albert is discovered missing and presumed dead but
while the village mourns the demise of their May King, Albert returns, tells
off his mother and then resumes his life running the grocery store, having
discovered that the life of debauchery wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

 

It’s hardf to imagine a cast better suited for this opera
and Scottish director Paul Curran, making his company debut, melded them
together as a superb acting ensemble that rivals anything you’ve seen in those
marvelous British movies and/or TV shows (think Gosford Park and you get the picture).

 

However, even in the midst of that uniform excellence, tenor
Alek Shrader dominated the evening in the title role, portraying Albert as far
more than a simple “Mr. Goody-Two-Shoes” and singing with a pure, elegant voice
that surely would have made Peter Pears (Britten’s life partner and the man for
whom the role was created) proud.

 

Shrader was one of many in the cast making their LAO debut.
Another was soprano Janis Kelly, who surely didn’t look like an “elderly
aristocrat” (as Lady Billows is described) but certainly captured the
screeching fusspot to perfection. As is often the case, Ronnita Nicole Miller –
who began in the company’s Domingo-Thornton Young Artist Program and has
“graduated” to become one of the company’s mainstays — nearly stole the show as
Florence, the housekeeper and investigator of the village’s morals.

 

Liam Bonner and Daniela Mack were well cast as Sid and
Nancy; Stacey Tappan was a wonderfully prissy school tezcher, Miss Wordsworth;
Robert McPherson displayed his strong tenor voice as Mayor Uffold; Jonathan
Michie was effective as the supercilious Vicar Gedge; Richard Bernstein made
for an excellent Superintendent Budd; and Jane Bunnell was the domineering Mrs.
Herring. Caleb Glickman, Erin Sanzero and Jamie Rose-Guarrine played the
village children with panache.

 

Albert Herring is
really designed to play in a far-more-intimate theater than the 3,200-seat
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, and the sets — designed by Kevin Knight, who also
created the costumes — were a constant reminder of that fact because they
occupied about the middle half of the stage. I don’t know whether Britten
thought of the sets as a parody of old-fashioned opera staging but that’s what
this delightful production turned out to be, although the detailing was richer
than the “standard” cardboard and painted backdrops.

 

Rick Fisher’s lighting designs were appropriately
atmospheric, particularly in producing the shifts from day to night and back to
day again. James Conlon and an orchestra of 13 (the same number as last
season’s The Turn of the Screw) captured
Britten’s delicate score superbly.

 

This production of Albert
Herring
is richly drawn and superbly acted and sung. Even if Britten isn’t
your cup of tea as a composer or if you were wondering whether it would be
worth your time, make tracks downtown for one of the last performances, if for
no other reason than the uniform excellence throughout this production.

_______________________

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

Christine Brewer is slated to play Lady Billows in the
March 11 and 14 performances. She had the role in the Santa Fe Opera production
and her Wagnerian voice will be an interesting contrast to Kelly. Moreover
(without disparaging Ms. Brewer), she looks more like I imagine Lady Billows to
be.

Reportedly LAO was considering presenting the first of
Britten’s three chamber operas, The Rape
of Lucretia,
next season (2013 is the centennial of Britten’s birth) but
couldn’t find a production it liked and apparently wasn’t willing to construct
one of its own. Too bad; the first two chamber operas certainly piqued my
interest to see the first of the three, although it would be even better to see
it in a small-sized theater.

The opera ran about 2:50 last night with one intermission.

James Conlon delivered a preconcert lecture that was more
scatter-brained than usual. Perhaps later versions will be less frenetic,
although Conlon did a good job of setting Albert
Herring
within the context of other composer’s opera comedies.

There’s no Britten scheduled for the upcoming LAO season
(although Noye’s Fludde will be
presented again in free performances at the Roman Catholic cathedral across the
street from the Music Center) but Conlon said that 2013 would bring more
Britten.

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

Five-Spot: What caught my eye on February 23, 2012

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

______________________

 

Each Thursday, I list five events that pique my interest,
including (ideally) at least one with free admission (or, at a minimum, inexpensive
tickets). Here’s today’s grouping:

______________________

 

Tonight at 8 p.m., Tomorrow
at 11 a.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Los Angeles
Philharmonic; Charles Dutoit, conductor

We’ll soon find out whether the Los Angeles Philharmonic has
jet lag after returning from Caracas following a very hectic week playing in
the Venezuelan portion of “The Mahler Project.” The Phil returns to be led by a
familiar guest conductor, Charles Duoit (currently finishing up his tenure as
chief conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra and for 25 years music director
of the Montreal Symphony). This weekend’s program is mostly familiar Dutoit
fare: Stravinsky’s Symphony of Wind
Instruments,
Debussy’s La Mer, and
a suite from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet.
Information: www.laphil.com

 

Tonight at 8 p.m.
at Valley Performing Arts Center (Cal State Northridge)

Wroclaw Philharmonic
Orchestra; Garrick Ohlsson, piano

Artistic Director Jacek Kaspszyk leads The National Forum of
Music Wroclaw Philharmonic Orchestra (to give the ensemble its formal name) at
VPAC on tour with a program that includes Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7 and Chopin’s
Piano Concerto No. 2, with Garrick Ohlsson as soloist. Information: www.valleyperformingartscenter.org

 

Saturday at 7:30
p.m. at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

Los Angeles Opera: Albert Herring

Los Angeles Opera brings this “coming of age” work by
Benjamin Britten, using a production from Santa Fe Opera that will be conducted
by James Conlon, who will also deliver a lecture one hour before each
performance. Tenor Alex Shrader makes his Los Angeles debut in the title role.
Brian in “Out West Arts” has one of his familiar “10 Questions” profile with
Shrader HERE. David Mermelstein previews the opera in his Los Angeles Times article HERE. Information: www.losangelesopera.com

 

Saturday at 8 p.m.
at Ambassador Auditorium

Los Angeles Chamber
Orchestra; Jeffrey Kahane, conductor

For the past several years in what he calls the “Discover
Series,” Music Director Jeffrey Kahane has picked a single piece to first
discuss and then perform. The choice Saturday night is one of the landmarks of
choral repertoire: Bach’s Magnificat,
with a text drawn from the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke.

 

Joining Kahane and LACO are The University of Southern California
Thornton Chamber Singers, directed by Jo-Michael Scheibe; and five soloists:
Charlotte Dobbs, soprano, Zanaida Robles, soprano, Janelle DeStefano, mezzo
soprano, Ben Bliss, tenor, and Daniel Armstrong, baritone.

 

Information: www.laco.org

 

Two of the other
offerings are opera holdovers:

San Diego Opera’s production of Moby-Dick wraps up its
run on Friday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. in the San Diego Civic Theatre. My
review is HERE. Information: www.sdopera.com

 

LA Opera’s production of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra plays Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Dorothy
Chandler Pavilion. My review is HERE. Information:
www.laopera.com

 

Also, the “encore performance” of the Los Angeles
Philharmonic’s Mahler 8 concert in
Caracas earlier this month will be shown Wednesday at 7 p.m. (local time) in
four Los Angeles-area theaters along with a couple in Orange County. Information: www.laphil.com

 

And the weekend’s
“free admission” program …

 

Tuesday at 7:30
p.m. at Pasadena Presbyterian Church

Vor Frue Kirkes
Drenge-Mandskor and Vanse Guttekor-Deo Gloria

Two internationally renowned boys’ choirs appear as part of
a Southland tour with a selection of Norwegian, Danish and American music
concluding with Jonah — a Liturgical
Drama.
Information: www.ppc.net

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

OVERNIGHT REVIEW: LA Opera opens Verdi’s “Simon Boccanegra” last night at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

______________________

 

Los Angeles Opera:
Verd’s Simon Boccanegra

February 11, 2012 Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

Next performances: Feb. 15, 21 and March 1 at 7:30 p.m.;
Feb. 19, 26 and March 4 at 2 p.m.

Information: www.losangelesopera.com

58450-Domingo-Martinez.jpg

Plcido Domingo and Ana Maria Martinez star in Los Angeles
Opera’s production of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra,
which opened last night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Photo for LAO by
Robert Millard.

______________________

 

Simon Boccanegra
isn’t the least performed of Verdi’s operas but it’s not at the top of the list
of the Italian composer’s favorites, either. It was given, to quote Thomas
May’s article in the printed program, “a lukewarm premiere” when it debuted in
Venice in 1857 and, again according to May, subsequent performances in Florence
and Milan were “outright fiascos.” In 1881, Verdi — who had by then ostensibly
retired from the writing opera — revised the work, and the success of that
revival led him to write his final two — and greatest — operas: Otello and Falstaff.

 

What Verdi created in Boccanegra
was somewhat formulaic; even though the two plots are different, I had the
feeling I was reliving last season’s Rigoletto
all over again. Part of the reason for the familiarity may be that Michael
Yeargan designed both productions, Rigoletto
originally for San Francisco and Simon
Boccanegra
for Royal Opera, Covent Garden.

 

Nonetheless, wonderful music pours out of every page of Boccanegra and the ensembles he wrote –
trios, quartets and, in particular, a marvelous sextet to conclude the first
Act — the famous “Council Chamber” scene — are quite special.

 

For Los Angeles Opera, the major reason for mounting Simon Boccanegra is that Plcido Domingo
wanted to undertake the title role. After a century as one of the world’s great
tenors, Domingo (who turned 71 on Jan. 21) has discovered the joys of once
again being a baritone (he actually began that way as a young adult). Actually,
it’s quite a rare feat; normally a tenor voice doesn’t have the heft necessary
for baritone roles but Domingo has always been unique.

 

Last night at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Domingo’s lower
register wasn’t as deep as many who have been baritones all of their adult
lives, but the glorious ring that has characterized his more than 130 tenor
roles remains very much in evidence. Moreover, he brought an anguished pathos to
the role of an elder statesman struggling to unite his country while wrestling
with personal demons, as well.

 

So, if you’re hesitating whether to attend one of the six
remaining performances, hearing and seeing Domingo’s riveting performance in
his “new life” is worth the price of a ticket. Besides, there’s no guarantee
that he can keep going; Domingo has already announced that he’ll perform in
Verdi’s even more rarely heard I Due
Foscari
to open LAO’s 2012-2013 season in September (yet another baritone role),
but the clock is, regrettably, ticking.

 

Fortunately, Domingo is not the only reason for making the
trip to downtown Los Angeles; the balance of the cast is uniformly strong and,
in a couple of cases, better than that. For me, the highlight of the evening
was soprano Ana Maria Martinez, who in her fourth appearance with LAO sang the
role of Amelia with a rich, lustrous tone and tossed off a spiffy trill at the
end of the sextet to boot. She also brought deep emotion to her acting.

 

Vatalij Kowalijow’s portrayal of Jacpo Fiesco echoed the
nobility that the Ukranian bass brought to his portrayal of Wotan in LAO’s Ring cycle three years ago, Stefano
Secco made an impressive LAO debut as Gabriele Adorno a gleaming top tenor
range. The balance of the cast included Paolo Gavanelli as Paolo Albiani (and
didn’t have to worry about remembering his first name), Robert Pomakov as
Pietro, Sara Campbell as Amelia’s maid, and Todd Strange as a captain. The LA Opera Chorus was effective in the crowd scenes.

 

To no one’s great surprise — he has conducted 25
performances of three productions of Boccanegra
before last night — James Conlon conducted with assurance and sensitivity and
the LA Opera Orchestra played beautifully; it would be a shock if either were
otherwise but such skill is not to be taken lightly or for granted. David Washburn sparkled as a one-man banda.

 

The production features a simple unit set with columns to
symbolize Italy and a moveable back wall alternating two different styles of
graffiti with Trajan-style letters, each trying to figure out clever ways to
slip Simon Boccanegra’s name among the other words. The costumes, originally by
Peter J. Hall, ranged from colorful to nondescript and the lighting design by
Duane Schuler was suitably atmospheric for the most part. Elijah Moshinsky
directed the six scenes skillfully.

_______________________

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

The opera ran just under three hours including one
intermission.

Conlon revealed in his printed-program article that Simon Boccanegra was among the first
operas he saw, at age 13 from the standing-room area of the old Metropolitan
Opera House in New York City.

The large banners of Domingo and Conlon that used to hang
from atop the Pavilion are no longer present. They were destroyed in big
windstorms in December.

In addition to the remaining Simon Boccanegra performances, LAO’s production of Britten’s Albert Herring opens Feb. 25 for six
performances through March 17. Information: www.losangelesopera.com

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

STORY AND LINKS: LA Opera announced 2012-2013 season

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

 

With three big anniversaries occurring in 2013 — the
bicentennials of the births of Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner and the
centennial of Benjamin Britten — hopes were high that Los Angeles Opera’s
2012-2013 season might move beyond the current one, which continues with
Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra, opening
Saturday night in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

 

No such luck. The upcoming season will have 37 performances
of six operas, the same as 2011-2012 and down considerably from the 2006-07
high of 10 productions and 75 performances. Unlike the previous two seasons,
there will be no Britten operas next season and LAO’s “Recovered Voices”
project of music and composers suppressed and/or murdered by the Nazis remains
on hiatus (although a version of the latter surfaced at The Colburn School
earlier this year). The company also added some details to its new “dynamic
pricing policy.

 

LAO continues to cite the economic downturn and the
financial effects of its production of Wagner’s Ring cycle in 2009 as reasons
for its cautious stance “Our mission to present world-class performances is
matched by our need to be fiscally sound,” says CEO Stephen D. Rountree in the
media release. “We have been conscientious about maintaining our artistic
standards while adhering strictly to our budgets. We have even been able to
repay–a year ahead of schedule–half of the Bank of America loan, guaranteed by
the County of Los Angeles, that helped to stabilize the Company during the
worst part of the economic downturn.”

 

Also continuing a recent trend, five of the six 2012-2013 productions
will be imported from other companies — Lyric Opera, Chicago, San Francisco
Opera, Houston Grand Opera figure heavily into the mix. The one “new”
production is the opening opera, Verdi’s rarely heard The Two Foscari (l Due Foscari), which
is a coproduction between LAO and companies in Valencia (Spain, not Calif.),
Vienna and London. The opera offers Plcido Domingo another baritone role
suited to his age (the character is described as “an aging head of state).
James Conlon will conduct, one of four productions he will lead next season.
Thaddeus Strassberger makes his company debut directing.

 

The Two Foscari (which
will be sung in Italian with English supertitles) will open on Sept. 15 in the
first of six performances. It will run in tandem with Mozart’s Don Giovanni, which will open Sept. 22
and run for seven performances. Conlon will conduct the first five performances
and Domingo will conduct the last two. The production is from Lyric Opera,
Chicago, first seen in 2004.

 

Other offerings are:

Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, beginning Nov. 17 for six performances.
Soprano Oksana Dyka (Tatiana in this season’s production of Eugene Onegin) sings the title role. The
other notable cast name is Eric Owens (Grendel in 2006) as Sharpless. Grant
Gershon, who was recently promoted to LAO’s resident conductor, will lead the
LAO orchestra for six performances beginning Nov. 17. Ron Daniels directs a
production he created originally for San Francisco Opera.

 

Wagner’s Der Flieglende Hollnder (The Flying
Dutchman)
opens March 9,
2013, for six performances. Conlon conducts and, rather than exhume its own
Julie Taymor-created production, LAO is importing one from San Francisco Opera.
Icelandic baritone Tmas Tmasson makes his company in the title role,
Elisabete Matos (also in her LAO debut) will portray Senta and, most
interestingly, Jay Hunter Morris, who has sung the role of Siegfried in the
Met’s current Ring cycle to great
acclaim, returns as Erik.

 

Rossini’s La Cenerentola (Cinderella), which begins
March 23, 2013 and runs for six performances. Conlon conducts and, again,
rather than use its own previous production (which, unlike Taymor’s Flying Dutchman, was very well received
when it appeared in 2000) will import one, this time a co-production of Houston
Grand Opera and Gran Teatro de Liceu of Barcelona directed by Joan Font.
Perhaps it’s cheaper to rent than renovate.

 

Puccini’s Tosca opens May 18 and plays
(somewhat surprisingly for such a warhorse) for just six dates. Sondra
Radvanovsky will perform the title role and Domingo conducts. Again bypassing
its own production, this one will come from Houston Grand Opera, first seen in
2007.

 

The company will also present soprano Rene Fleming and
mezzo-soprano Susan Graham in recital on Jan. 19 but at Walt Disney Concert
Hall rather than the Pavilion, which will host all of the operas.

 

LAO also formally announced several new pricing initiatives.
The company is remapping the Pavilion’s seating plan to make more seats
available at “affordable” prices (described in the release as $99 or less). The
statement also said that the number of tickets priced at $50 or less has been
increased by 10 percent, although it did not give an actual number. LAO is also
instituting a program where seats are allocated for every performance for
students, seniors and “underserved groups” so they can attend at “minimal
cost.”

 

On the other side of the coin (literally and figuratively),
the company will institute a “demand-based pricing” system whereby when ticket
sales reach certain unspecified levels, prices will be reset upward (the
release used as an example popular Sunday matinee performances). However,
prices will not be lowered if a particular performance tanks in ticket sales
(although venues such as Gold Star often offer discounted ticket prices).
“Season subscribers will always pay the lowest ticket prices,” the release
emphasized, “at a discount from the base price.”

 

Subscriptions are now sale; single tickets will go on sale
later in the year. Information: www.laopera.com

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

Five-Spot: What caught my eye on February 9, 2012

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

______________________

 

Each Thursday, I list five events that pique my interest,
including (ideally) at least one with free admission (or, at a minimum, inexpensive
tickets). Here’s today’s grouping:

 

Tonight at 8 p.m.,
Zipper Hall, Los Angeles

Tuesday at 8 p.m. at
Huntington Library, San Marino

Camerata Pacifica

This traveling group (each concert plays in venues in four
different cities) brings its latest program to Zipper Hall at The Colburn
School in downtown Los Angeles tonight and to the Huntington Tuesday night. The
program is a mixture of old and new: John Harbison’s Variations for Clarinet, Violin and Piano; Sheng’s Seven Tunes Heard in China for Cello; Schuman’s
 Mrchenbilder (Fairy Tale Pictures), for Viola and Piano, Op. 113;
and Beethoven’s Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano No. 4 in B-flat Major, Op.
11, Gassenhauer. Information: www.cameratapacifica.org

 

Saturday at 9:00
a.m. in local movie theatres

Metropolitan Opera in
HD: Wagner’s Gotterdamerung

If you’ve wondered what has caused all the kvetching
vis–vis the Met’s new Ring cycle,
here’s your chance to see the last part of the cycle: Gotterdamerung. The reviews have been generally negative not only
of this production but also pretty much of all four productions, although
there’s been lots of praise for Fabio Luisi’s work in the pit leading the Met
Orchestra. However, as we learned from Siegfried,
what comes across on the big screen may be quite different from the
experience in the Met. Personally, I’d vote for L.A. Opera’s production of
Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra (see below)
but if you’re a glutton for punishment, you have time to do both with dinner in
between. Also, take note that Gotterdamerung
runs six hours. An “Encore” date has not been announced. Information: www.metoperafamily.org

 

Saturday at 7:30
p.m. at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

Los Angeles Opera:
Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra

Plcido Domingo performs the title role, which was written
for a baritone and fits Domingo’s voice at this stage of his career. James
Conlon conducts and gives a pre-concert lecture one hour before the
performance. Elijah Moshinsky directs this production from Royal Opera, Covent
Garden (Brian in Out West Arts has
one of his informative “10 Questions” features on Moshinsky HERE). There are
six other performances, beginning Wednesday. Information: www.laopera.com

 

Sunday at 7:00 p.m.
at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Los Angeles Master
Chorale: Bruckner and Stravinsky

Music Director Grant Gershon leads 115 members of his
Chorale and a wind orchestra in Anton Bruckner Mass in E Minor and the motet Os Justi, along with Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms. Should be a real
treat in the Disney Hall acoustics.  Information: www.lamc.org

And the weekend’s
“free admission” program …

 

Sunday at 6 at St.
James Episcopal Church, Los Angeles

Edward Tipton, who from 1989-2010 was Canon of Music at the
American Cathedral in Paris and is now Minister of Music for St. John’s
Pro-Cathedral in Los Angeles, appears on St. James International Organ Laureate
Series. The recital will follow an Evensong service at 4:30 p.m. and will be
played on a historically important instrument (read about it HERE). The church
is located on Wilshire Blvd., two blocks west of Western Ave. and is reachable
via a short walk from the Metro Purple Line’s Wilshire/Western station. Information: www.saintjamesla.org

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

Five-Spot: What caught my eye on January 19, 2012

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

______________________

 

Each Thursday morning, I list five events (six this week –
there could have been others) that pique my interest, including — ideally — at
least one with free admission (or, at a minimum, inexpensive tickets) . Here’s
today’s grouping:

______________________

 

Tonight, tomorrow
and Saturday at 8 p.m. at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Los Angeles
Philharmonic: Gustavo Dudamel conducts Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 and Adagio from Symphony No. 10

The L.A. Phil’s “Mahler Project” kicks into high gear this
weekend beginning with these two works. Symphony No. 1 was the first major
piece that Dudamel conducted (at age 16). The Adagio from Symphony No. 10 is one of two Mahler symphonies for
which these will be inaugural Dudamel traversals. A couple of things to note:

Friday night is a “Casual Friday” concert, so only
the first symphony will be performed. If the Phil follows its normal “CF”
format, a musician will give a brief talk before the performance and a Q&A
will follow; Dudamel customarily appears at the Q&A when he conducts, but
considering his time commitment to the three-week long survey, no promises.
Then there’s a reception in the downstairs where audience members can meet with
the musicians.

Gilbert Kaplan is giving the preconcert lecture, which
will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the main hall. If you’ve never heard of Kaplan, a
writeup is HERE. Although he’s more known for his advocacy of Symphony No. 2,
I’m looking forward to hearing his insights on the first and 10th
symphonies.

 

Concert information: www.laphil.com

 

Tomorrow and Friday
at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at Zipper Hall (The Colburn School,
downtown Los Angeles)

James Conlon conducts
“forgotten’ operas

For several years, James Conlon, music director of Los
Angeles Opera, had led “Recovered Voices,” a series of operas written by
composers whose lives and music were suppressed by the Nazi regime. He has a
similar survey, “Breaking the Silence,” at Chicago’s Ravinia Festival (one of
that city’s major summer music festivals).

 

This weekend, Conlon revives this concept locally when he
conducts The Colburn Orchestra and singers from the Domingo-Thornton Young
Artists in a double-bill: Viktor Ulman’s The
Emperor of Atlantis
(which has was conducted at LAO) and Ernst Krenek’s The Secret Kingdom, which is receiving
its West Coast debut. Conlon will deliver a 45-minute lecture prior to each
concert.

 

Because Zipper Hall has a very small seating capacity,
tickets are extremely limited. Information:
213/621-1050; www.thecolburnschool.edu

 

Saturday at 8 p.m.
at Alex Theatre, Glendale

Sunday at 7 p.m. at
Royce Hall, UCLA

Andrew Shulman
conducts LACO; Nigel Armstrong is soloist

Andrew Shulman, principal cellist of both the Los Angeles
Chamber Orchestra and Pasadena Symphony, makes his Los Angeles conducting debut
leading a program of Mozart’s Symphony No. 29 and Violin Concerto No. 3 and
Walton’s Sonata for Strings. Nigel Armstrong, a former student at The Colburn
School who captured fourth place in last summer’s Tchaikovsky International
Violin Competition, will be the concerto soloist. My story on Shulman is HERE
it includes links to my stories on Armstrong’s strong showing last summer. Information: www.laco.org

 

Saturday at 8 p.m.
at Royce Hall, UCLA

Kathleen Battle sings
spirituals

The former opera diva now focuses exclusively on recitals
and concerts and she appears on the “UCLA Live” series with something that
ought to be right in her wheelhouse: Underground
Railroad: An Evening of Spirituals. P
ianist Cyrus Chestnut and the Albert
McNeil Jubilee Singers are part of the show. Information: www.uclalive.org

 

Sunday at 7:30 p.m.
at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony

Tuesday at 8 p.m.
at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Mahler’s Symphony No.
3

The Simn Bolivr Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela moves into
Walt Disney Concert Hall for its part in the L.A. Phil’s “Mahler Project.” On
Sunday, Gustavo Dudamel leads the SBSOV, Los Angeles Master Chorale, and
soloists Miah Persson, soprano, and Christianne
Stotijn
, mezzo-soprano in Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection). Dudamel comes back
Tuesday night to lead Symphony No. 3, featuring the SBSOV, women of the L.A.
Master Chorale, L.A. Children’s Chorus, and Stotijn

 

Two things to note:

Gilbert Kaplan’s preconcert lecture Sunday begins at 6
p.m. in the main auditorium. On Tuesday, somewhat controversial author and
commentator Norman Lebrecht lectures at 7 p.m. in BP Hall.

Both works are long (90-100 minutes each) and will be
presented without intermission.

 

Information: Symphony
No. 2: www.laphil.com

Symphony No. 3: www.laphil.com

 

And the weekend’s
“free admission” program …

 

Saturday at 7:30
p.m. at Pasadena Presbyterian Church

Frances Nobert’s 75th
Birthday Concert

A fixture on the Southland organ scene for decades, Nobert
appears at PPC with a concert that includes her on the organ and as part of the
Haarlem Keyboard Duo (Nobert on piano and Steve Gentile on organ). After
intermission, Nobert will lead an alumni choir from Grant High School, where
she taught for many years. There’s even an audience-participation part. Information: www.ppc.net

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2012, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.

SAME-DAY REVIEW: James Conlon, Yuja Wang and L.A. Philharmonic at Walt Disney Concert Hall

By Robert D. Thomas

Music Critic

Pasadena Star-News/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/Whittier Daily
News

______________________

 

Los Angeles
Philharmonic; James Conlon, conductor, Yuja Wang, pianist

Britten: Sinfonia da
Requiem;
Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 3; Dvorak: Symphony No. 7

Friday, November 4, 2011 Walt Disney Concert Hall

Next concerts: Tomorrow at 8 p.m. Sunday at 2 p.m.

Info: www.laphil.com

______________________

 

With Music Director Gustavo Dudamel away from Los Angeles
for the balance of 2011 (he will be leading his Simn Bolivr Symphony
Orchestra of Venezuela on a European tour later this month, then heading to Tel
Aviv to conduct the Israel Philharmonic), the Los Angeles Philharmonic this
morning began a series of concerts led by guest conductors with Los Angeles
Opera Music Director James Conlon on the podium. As is usually the case for midday
concerts, a large crowd showed up at Walt Disney Concert Hall, braving drizzle
(which had turned to steady rain by the time the concert let out) and cool
temperatures.

 

Hearing and seeing Conlon outside the opera pit is always
welcome and this morning was no exception. Now age 61, he’s an experienced hand
in symphonic repertoire (earlier in his career he was music director of the
Rotterdam Philharmonic and later of Cologne’s symphony orchestra) and one has
only to read laudatory reviews from cities such as San Francisco and Chicago to
know he hasn’t lost his touch. Too bad Phil management hasn’t been able to
snare him for a longer stretch of engagements (can anyone spell Principal Guest
Conductor?), but don’t miss out on the remaining concerts this weekend.

 

Conlon began with a mid-20th century piece –
Benjamin Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem — and
worked backwards in time to Prokofiev’s third piano concerto and Dvorak’s
seventh symphony. The two symphonies, as Conlon noted in a brief preconcert
chat, are in the key of D — major for the Britten and minor for the Dvorak. Each
was written during a period of national struggle.

 

It’s no surprise that Conlon elected to open with a Britten
piece. Few conductors working today revere the British conductor more than
Conlon, who is in the midst of a three-year-cycle of programming the English
composer’s works leading up to the centenary of his birth in 2013.

 

L.A. Opera performed Britten’s The Turn of the Screw last season and will tackle Albert Herring next spring. One assumes
that one of the big Britten operas (e.g., Peter
Grimes or Billy Budd)
will show up on next year’s LAO schedule (2013 also
happens to be the bicentennial of the births of Verdi and Wagner, so opera
companies will be awash in anniversary celebrations for the next couple of
years).

 

Although the LAPO didn’t first perform Sinfonia da Requiem until 1971, the work is by now a well-established repertoire piece (all things are
relative — this is Britten, after all). The back-story of the work is quite
interesting (see some history details below in Hemidemisemiquavers).

 

Conlon led a compelling performance of the 20-minute work,
which contains three connected movements. He sustained the gripping tension in
the outer sections masterfully and kept the Dies
Irae
movement (with its Verdi Requiem allusions) moving along snappily. The
large orchestra (the piece includes some major percussion moments) responded
powerfully.

 

Given Conlon’s obvious affinity for Britten, I hope the Phil
will sign him to conduct the composer’s War
Requiem
during the 2012-2013 season. Another reason would be that the 50th
anniversary of that landmark piece is May 30, 2012. I could easily imagine soloists
in different parts of Disney Hall, children’s chorus and chamber orchestra in
the balconies, the Disney Hall organ booming, etc. Would be quite something in
Disney’s acoustics, I suspect.

 

Yuja Wang, the 24-year-old Chinese pianist who created quite
a stir at Hollywood Bowl last summer for her “little orange dress,” was the
soloist in Prokofiev’s third piano concerto. To get the obvious out of the way,
she was dressed this morning in a long, elegant floor-length black gown, which
meant that all attention could be focused on her playing where it belongs.

 

Wang is a very special talent as she proved again this
morning. That isn’t due to merely to her ability to race through the bravura
sections of this concerto, although race she did, with hands flying up and down
the keyboard through octaves, runs and glissandos. What sets her apart from
other performers (and there have been several run-throughs of this concerto recently)
was the sublime sense of musicality that permeated her entire performance. Even
at breakneck speed, she took time to shape the whiz-bang sections and her
meditative variations in the second movement were played with elegant, pearly
tones. As one audience member said at intermission, “She’s more than a dress.”
That she is!

 

Conlon took extreme care to collaborate as smoothly as
possible with Wang and the orchestra, which played wonderfully and earns extra
plaudits for being locked into Conlon’s tempo shifts that were necessary to
accommodate the soloist. Lorin Levee’s wistful clarinet solo got things off to
a scintillating start.

 

After intermission, Conlon and Co. gave an unhurried,
majestic reading of Dvorak’s Symphony No. 7. Conlon conducted without a score
and connected the last three movements without pause. Under his steady hand,
the performance that seemed to unfold naturally without any attempt to make the
work more than it is. The orchestra, which had several principal players on
vacation, delivered a first-rate performance, although there were a few moments
where the ensemble’s customary rhythmic precision seemed to be lacking (those
will probably evaporate in the next two concerts). Nonetheless, overall it
proved to be a satisfying conclusion to an excellent program.

_______________________

 

Hemidemisemiquavers:

Sinfonia da Requiem
has quite a history, as Herbert Glass relates in his program notes (LINK). For
reasons that no one seems to be able to explain, the Japanese commissioned
Britten in 1940 to write a symphony for ceremonies celebrating the 2,600th
anniversary of the emperor of Japan. What made this request unique (foolish?)
was that Britten was an avowed pacifist while Japan was by then three years
into a bloody war with China and was becoming an axis partner with Nazi
Germany.

 

Britten wrote what amounts to a lament, with titles — Lacrymosa, Dies Irae and Requiem aeterna — (pre-approved, inexplicably,
by the Japanese government) taken from the Roman Catholic Mass for the Dead, although
the work has no obvious religious overtones. Nearly a quarter-century later,
Britten would merge the Mass texts with words from poet Wilfred Owen to create
his “magnum opus,” War Requiem, as
part of the consecration of the newly rebuilt Coventry Cathedral.

 

When Japan received the Sinfonia
da Requiem
commission, it was not pleased and an acrimonious exchange
between embassies (i.e., not directly with Britten) ensued. Eventually the
Japanese rejected the symphony as unsuitable for a celebration and John
Barbirolli and the New York Philharmonic ended up premiering the work on March
29, 1941 by at Carnegie Hall. Ironically, Britten eventually conducted the
first Japanese of the piece in 1956.

 

One other interesting note (as Glass relates): the Japanese
did not request that Britten return its commissioning fee. He used it to buy
his first automobile — a vintage Ford.

 

Prokofiev was the soloist when the L.A. Phil first played his
Piano Concerto No. 3 on February 13, 1930 with Artur Rodzinski conducting, nine
years after its premiere in Chicago.

 

Nathan Cole, the Phil’s first associate concertmaster who
was in the first chair today, appeared to remind Conlon of the orchestra’s
tradition of bowing to those seated behind the ensemble. Good catch — it’s
always a nice touch.

_______________________

 

(c) Copyright 2011, Robert D. Thomas. All rights reserved.
Portions may be quoted with attribution.